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14: Two Oaths of Bolívar

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In our Americas, the oath which Simón Bolívar took on "Monte Sacro" in Rome in the spring of 1805 is universally known to history students in our colleges and universities, and even to those in our elementary schools:

I swear before you, I swear by the God of my forefathers, I swear by my native country, that I shall never give rest to my arm nor to my soul until I have broken the shackles which chain us to Spain.

But a second oath, taken in Peru eighteen years later, when Bolívar had already liberated Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, was unknown to me. I discovered it in an article published by the review Variedades of Lima on the occasion of the Centennial of the Battle of Ayacucho, in December, 1924. The article, signed with the pseudonym "ARGOS", was written by the distinguished Peruvian chronicler Ricardo Vegas García.

According to that writer, Bolívar visited the city of Trujillo(1) while on his way from Cajamarca to Lima, and I will digress briefly to give the background of the events that occasioned that visit.

Bolívar had come to Peru at the urging of three separate embassies sent by the Peruvian Government and the Congress to ask for his help. When he arrived in Lima on September 1, 1823, the Liberator was faced with two crucial problems. First, the threat of a civil war as a result of the Congress having impeached the President of Peru, José de la Riva Agüero, who had refused to submit to their mandate, and in addition had fled to the northern provinces, taking with him the remnants of the few Peruvian battalions, thus leaving the capital completely at the mercy of the enemy. Second, the Spanish Armies, consisting of some 16,000 troops in active service and some 4,000 garrisoning the cities, were quartered in the high valleys of the Andes from Jauja to Potosí, and from these positions they controlled not only the interior territories but also all of the Peruvian coast south of Lima.

To combat this powerful enemy, the Liberator had only some 5,000 Colombian troops, which he had stationed in the Andean regions south of Cajamarca. To compensate for this numerical inferiority, Bolívar had requested additional reinforcements from the Colombian Government which he expected to receive within a short time.(2) His first concern, while awaiting these reinforcements, was to solve the problem of the impending civil war. This he soon accomplished by exerting extraordinary powers of conciliation and skillful statesmanship. Without a single shot being fired, he persuaded the dissident Peruvian battalions to return to the authority of the Congress, and, at the same time, captured Riva Agüero and his followers.

It was at this point that the Liberator took his second oath. On his way from Cajamarca to Lima Bolívar stopped at the city of Trujillo on December 20, 1823. Describing this visit, Vegas García tells in his article how on that morning the greater part of the population, headed by the civic authorities, went to the outskirts of the city to welcome Bolívar. A delegation comprising the Mayor, Don Andres Archimbaud, the Marquis of Bellavista, Don Manuel Cavero y Muńoz, Don José Clemente Merino y Arrieta (Subdelegate from Piura), and other important persons of the locality, joined in tendering the Liberator a reception worthy of his renown.

Upon Bolívar's arrival at the City Hall, Archimbaud delivered an enthusiastic speech of greeting. After thanking the Mayor for his warm welcome, Bolívar said with inspired eloquence:

In Cajamarca I have sworn before the tomb of Atahualpa(3) to liberate Perú, and this I also promise to the citizen who is congratulating me on behalf of the city founded by Pizarro.

In the absence of evidence corroborating this oath, we must rely entirely on the authority of the Peruvian chronicler. However, it is unlikely that the Liberator would have erroneously mentioned Pizarro as the founder of the city of Trujillo. But it is not the veracity of this anecdote that is important; what makes the story so interesting is the subsequent chain of events culminating in the liberation of Perú.

The situation confronting Bolívar in the final months of 1823 could not have been more disheartening. The series of military and political disasters devastating Perú at that time had carried the country to the brink of despair and created among the populace a pervasive attitude of frustration toward the cause of Liberty.

On his way to Lima, following his first visit to Trujillo, the Liberator, seriously ill, was compelled to break his journey at the small village of Pativilca, where he arrived on January 1, 1824. It was during the two fateful months of his stay there that the cumulative misfortunes besetting the country reached their climax, when both Lima(4) and Callao(5) were delivered to the enemy.

Under these calamitous circumstances, and in spite of his illness, Bolívar showed his capacity to surmount any adversity. His genius and his unshakable faith in final triumph created order out of chaos and laid the foundation for Perú's liberation, which would become a reality before the year ended.

Perusal of the numerous military orders addressed at that time to his generals, quartered in the mountains with their troops, reveals Bolívar's meticulous attention to even the minutest details in preparing his army for the approaching campaign. In his itemized instructions to his lieutenants the Liberator recommended the type of terrain to choose when confronting the enemy, and the positions that the various branches of each division should take to achieve victory. But his principal preoccupation was to improve the discipline of the soldiers. In order to acclimate them to the rarefied atmosphere of the high mountains where they would have to fight the enemy, he had them march some 30 or 40 miles a week over precipitous ground. And in his letters to General Sucre from Pativilca, he set forth the itinerary which the troops should follow when crossing the Andes, as well as the conditions and indispensable requirements to quarter them: how the shelters should be prepared on the cordillera at the end of each march; the measures to obtain food for the troops and fodder for the horses and supply train animals. He also gave special attention to the placing of hospitals, ambulances and other impedimenta.

On February 10, 1824, during his convalescence at Pativilca, the Congress invested Bolívar with dictatorial powers, against his wishes. As soon as his physical condition permitted him to travel, he returned to Trujillo, and on March 8th, proclaimed it the seat of the Peruvian Government while the enemy occupied Lima. In a frenzy of activity he transformed Trujillo into a military arsenal where no one was idle. Even the women, including those of high social rank, were kept busy making clothing for the troops out of woolen and cotton fabrics from Ecuador. In a few weeks' time Bolívar secured a great quantity of clothing, shoes and blankets for the soldiers, as well as leather straps, saddles and rifles. He set up armories which operated day and night producing gunpowder and ammunition, as well as horseshoes for the cavalry and the mule trains soon to cross the cordillera. He also obtained a large number of mules and horses.

For the soldiers' canteen Bolívar collected all of the tin plate and wire available for fifty miles around, and, being in need of solder, he requisitioned all of the nails made of this metal being used to bind leather seats to chairs, after which there remained not a single usable chair even in the churches. And, remembering the enormous loss in men and animals suffered by his army when crossing the Colombian Andes five years earlier for lack of adequate shelter and provisions for troops and horses, the Liberator instructed his staff to store sufficient food and wood beforehand at the various points of the Peruvian Andes to be crossed by the armies.

In the re-organization of the dying republic's Government Bolívar's administrative measures produced results as admirable as his tactics in the field. His first step was to re-organize the treasury, whose coffers were exhausted. He cut in half the salaries of all soldiers as well as civilian employees. He ordered confiscation of property belonging to those suspected of helping the enemy. He persuaded the churches to donate their wealth (gold and silver vases, ornaments and candelabra), and the citizens to sacrifice part of their possessions on behalf of the sublime goal desired by all-Freedom from the Spanish yoke.

Bolívar was also successful in recruiting soldiers and in greatly reducing the number of desertions. With these recruits trained in Trujillo and the remnants of the existing Peruvian battalions, he organized a Peruvian division which, incorporated into the other divisions of the United Army, a few months later covered themselves with glory in the battles of Junín and Ayacucho.

Many noteworthy decrees were issued by Bolívar during the few weeks he spent in Trujillo re-organizing the Governmental departments. Especially commendable are those on Agriculture (April 8, 1824) and distribution of lands; those regulating the judiciary and establishing a Superior Court of Justice (March 26, 1824) as well as a special branch for Public Safety (April 3, 1824). In the field of Education he founded a number of elementary schools in the neighboring towns, and created the University of Trujillo.

His military preparations completed, the Liberator left Trujillo on April 11, 1824, barely six weeks after his arrival, en route to Huaylas(6) Province to join his troops.

History has told us the rest. Before the end of 1824, Bolívar's victorious armies had liberated all of Perú and, furthermore, by eliminating the last stronghold of the Spaniards, contributed to the total independence of the rest of South America.

What lesson has the Liberator bequeathed to posterity? Among the multiple facets of his genius we will cite only three of his superior qualities: infinite patience, outstanding tenacity and perseverance, and absolute faith in the final triumph. These incomparable attributes, exhibited by Bolívar at a time when his star and that of Perú appeared to have reached their nadir, were responsible a few months later for the sublime achievement--VICTORY!

1. The city of Trujillo, located about 350 miles north of Lima, was founded in December, 1525, by Captain Martín Astete (one of the Conquistador Pizarro's lieutenants). At the time of Bolívar's visit in 1823, the city had about 14,000 inhabitants. Its present population is estimated to be about 250,000.

2. With the exception of a contingent of some 1,500 soldiers, these troops arrived after Perú had been liberated.

3. Atahualpa: Inca, executed in Cajamarca by Conquistador Francisco de Pizarro in 1533.

4. On February 27th, the Peruvian Government, led by President Marques de Torre Tagle and all his official and military retinue, deserted to the Spaniards and surrendered the capital.

5. Callao fell on February 5th, when the Argentine troops (the Río de la Plata Regiment and the 11th Battalion) garrisoning the fortified port defected, delivering it into Spanish hands.

6. The "Callejón de Huaylas" is a beautiful and fertile narrow valley, where the villages of Huaraz, Carhuaz and Carás are situated, between the Black Cordillera, or western range of the Andes, and the White Cordillera, or central range.


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